Self care is important. The old adage that we can’t pour from an empty cup, meaning that we can’t help others with their needs before we’ve met our own, is true for everyone, especially those who care for others.
If you’re anything like me, however, you nod your head when people talk about the importance of self care, but you hardly ever engage in it because putting the needs of others before yourself comes naturally. Or, you don’t engage in self care because you always have something to give to others, even if your energy level is running on reserve.
That’s why it took a different explanation of self care — one that gave me a better understanding of why self care is about helping others, not just ourselves — that I was able to begin making it a priority in my life.
This is what it said: “Self care is about giving the world what’s best of you, rather than what’s left of you.”
That struck home for me because I realized that when I wasn’t practicing healthy self care for myself, I might have been able to be physically present when others needed me, but I wasn’t fully there mentally or emotionally when I had been neglecting my needs.
When we think of self care, we often envision a full day being pampered at a luxury spa, meditating in the mountains at a weekend yoga retreat or reading a favorite novel while indulging in a scented bubble bath.
While these are wonderful activities to engage in if you have the opportunity, self care at its heart isn’t about pampering or long weekends away but about learning how to best set ourselves up for success.
It’s important as parents that we practice healthy self care and that we teach our children how to practice self care.
One of my roles at Challenge to Change in Dubuque is to lead educational in-service presentations to teachers in our schools. We have a presentation we introduce mid-year on the importance of self care. One of the topics we discuss is how to distinguish between proactive self care and reactive self care.
Proactive self care is everything that you do on a regular basis to set yourself up for success in your daily life. For adults, this might include regular exercise classes at the gym, making lists and going grocery shopping for the upcoming week or writing in a journal. It also might include a nightly bubble bath or a routine spa treatment that helps you feel your best self.
Reactive self care are the activities you turn to when life throws you a curve ball, and you are faced with unsettling events that are outside of your control.
For some, exercise is a helpful reactive self care strategy. For others, meditating or taking deep breaths is an effective response in these situations. Sometimes, screaming into a pillow or taking a long drive with the music blasting is a temporary way to engage in self care when life gets hard.
What we emphasize is that it’s important for everyone to have a proactive self care routine and to be mindful of healthy behaviors they can turn to at times of high stress.
It can be easy during times of strong emotion to resort to activities that allow you to escape dealing with unpleasant situations. However, the goal of reactive self care is not to avoid stress but to calm and prepare yourself to face it, head-on.
We also discuss that in order to be effective, reactive self care strategies need to begin as proactive self care.
We must practice and master healthy self-soothing techniques when we are calm and in control so that they become familiar and comfortable.
Later, we can turn to these practiced skills in stressful situations without feeling overwhelmed and ineffective.
When we go into schools to teach Challenge to Change’s Yoga in the Schools curriculum, we teach children enjoyable social-emotional regulation skills on a routine school day so that they can later use these techniques during times of need.
We never try to introduce a new breathing practice or calm-down technique when a child already is upset.
As parents, one of the best things we can do for our children is to make sure that our self care routines are healthy and consistent so that we can be fully physically, mentally and emotionally present for our children when they need us.
We also can help our children begin to develop healthy self care routines and learn to pull from their proactive strategies when they are feeling overwhelmed by strong emotions.
There are many lists of suggested self care strategies out there. What’s important to keep in mind is that you and your children find ones that are enjoyable and that support you in presenting your best selves to the world.
Melissa Hyde has a masters in education from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles and more than 10 years experience teaching elementary education. She works for Challenge to Change in Dubuque, teaching children social emotional regulation skills through the practices of yoga and mindfulness.